As was scrawled on my 8th grade science book cover: BIOLOGY SUCKS!
Today’s “postponement” of the Argentinian round of the MotoGP world championship suggests a trend and not a good one. Much of the world is gripped in fear of a potentially fatal virus; governments are telling citizens in some locales to not leave their homes.
As one well-respected man said when the subject of how racing will survive in this new environment: “Soon, the world will have much bigger things to worry about than MotoGP racing.”
Dorna and MotoGP are postponing world championship racing (presumably) on the hope that the Coronavirus will follow the typical flu season pattern and peter itself out by the end of April. Whether this is a promising course is a matter of opinion.
In any case, it is going to be difficult to convince spectators to attend any event where they are in close proximity to other humans while this virus is widely active. This is where the “biology sucks” angle comes in play: consider what one infected and coughing person in, for example, a packed Rossi fan grandstand could do to pass the virus on to others.
With so much unknown about Coronavirus (presumably one can be re-infected) unless there is a drastic improvement in containing this virus then it may well be that “biology sucks” translates into “a new business model” for world championship racing.
Hypothetically a world championship can self-contain its inner-workings so that the paddock travels around the world and has only limited contact with outsiders, but that will mean races without spectators. Races without spectators might work for television or on-line streaming but it’s not going to work for racetracks who depend upon spectator cash to actually hold the races. This will mean a new business model for MotoGP, etc.
In the grand scheme of a possible pandemic, discussing how it may impact racing seems slightly superficial but the future might not be as bad as one might fear. A zero or limited-spectator business plan for world championship racing isn’t as much of a seismic change as you might imagine. Dorna’s MotoGP event contract is renowned for leaning strongly to one side, theirs. One man who carried the USGP contract around in his briefcase for a year described the document as “the worst pre-nup ever”. Essentially it works like this: promoter/track pays MotoGP sanction fee and signs over any event sponsorship or income to Dorna. The track basically hands the keys to Dorna. Dorna controls all facets where revenue is concerned. Dorna controls their own television and webvision, and licenses out the rest. The majority of the ticket and VIP revenue goes to Dorna.
Hence it’s not an enormous leap to see how Dorna and MotoGP could modify the program for television only; they’d just need to subsidize the tracks for their lost revenue. In essence it becomes a world championship in a bubble. Everyone and everything required to run the championship is MotoGP quarantined; they stay together at the track, travel together and are constantly tested. The end game for Dorna is basically the same one they have now: monetizing their television rights.
The championship will bleed cash, of course, but Dorna is majority-owned by a huge institutional investor and MotoGP/Dorna has been a lucrative investment for them. They might be intrigued enough by the “Biology Sucks Business Plan” to hang around and watch about $350 million dollars go on the roulette table.